Encyclopedia of Coastal Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Charles W. Finkl, Christopher Makowski

Shell Middens

  • Sarah K. CampbellEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-48657-4_286-2

Shell midden refers to anthropogenic deposits containing noticeable amounts of shell, that is, calcareous invertebrate tests. Such deposits are common in marine coastal areas from subarctic to tropical latitudes throughout the world. They also occur along rivers and lakes, where freshwater molluscs comprise the shell consitutents.

Shell midden is not an analytically rigorous term in the sense of human activity, but a descriptive label that identifies the most superficially recognizable constituent of the deposit. Shell-bearing site is a more accurate label, although cumbersome and not likely to be adopted (Claasen 1991). Middenoriginally meant domestic refuse deposited around a house, but shell-bearing sites in the label further obscures the importance of other constituents of the deposit. These sites do not solely represent shell-gathering activities by people. Other food remains such as fish or plants may be very abundant and may, in fact, represent a more significant economic...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA